How Supernatural‘s 10 Seasons Represent Buddhist Stages of Reincarnation


Supernatural is a show that is entering its tenth year. This is a heady accomplishment, especially in a world where Firefly and Brisco County Jr. both only got one season. It’s also unique in that it brings in the female fans despite the fact that the main characters are all males (albeit extremely dreamy ones). Thus, with season 10 approaching fast, how can we celebrate Supernatural?

Supernatural tends to be a little circular. Invincible enemies are introduced one season and two seasons later they’re basically mooks. The brothers break up and reunite more times than Oasis, taking turns being the “Cynical Brother Who No Longer Cares”. Sam goes from being a demonic host to the devil to an angel and Dean goes from being the Sword of Michael to being the new Cain. It’s not easy to find a central meaning to Supernatural. You have to think a little outside the box after all these years and after so many tangled story lines. One idea that more or less works is reincarnation. Are the boys trapped in an eternity of living the same lives and making the same choices over and over again? I mean, they are, but what if there’s a literal truth to it as well? Assuming there is, let’s look at ten reasons Supernatural is all about the path of reincarnation.

(Extreme spoiler warning here. Just stop when you get to the season you haven’t binge-watched yet.)

1. Season 1: The Man

In my limited understanding of the concept, the man is the middle of the ladder, just an ordinary person. I match this to season 1, wherein the show is just getting started and the brothers are still pretty ordinary people instead of the current tradeoff between PTSD-scarred veterans and superheroes. In this clip, Dean is afraid to fly. This is very different from later episodes when Dean can stare down archangels. Here he seems like basically an ordinary guy, maybe even someone who gets a little afraid outside of his comfort zone. It also explains the brothers living out of a car for the next nine seasons.

Here we see Dean and Sam playing pranks on each other. Seeing as the current trailer for season 10 is the two brothers literally trying to murder each other, this is a bittersweet moment. It’s also pretty funny, in an admittedly stupid sort of way. It’s a juvenile thing to be doing, but then again if you spent months locked in a car or a hotel room with your brother you might start going a little weird as well. It’s only human, much like Sam and Dean in this season. Things pick up a bit in season 2.

2. Season 2: The Deva

The Deva is an ascended being above humanity but not all the way up the ladder yet. Season 2 is like this; it’s not as great as the show will get but it does get better. I wasn’t overly impressed with Season 1, I thought it was slow in parts and a bit underwhelming. Season 2 kicks things up a notch by basically side-stepping into a horror superheroes show where children given demon blood manifest superpowers in their early adulthood. Until the show adds a Hunger Games/Battle Royale twist wherein they are all forced to fight to the death and the deadliest student is the last one you expect. Much meatier than “Here’s a monster, let’s kill it!”

On the other hand, you have the Trickster, also introduced in season 2. Like many Supernatural characters he had a bit of drift over time, becoming both an archangel and a beloved Marvel character. In his first classic appearance, he is a warmed over trickster god here to punish humanity and it’s super fun to watch. Here people are tormented with vaguely appropriate punishments in ways that makes the Trickster think he is being educational. This UFO abduction is his doing and struck a nicely bizarre break to the usual monster hunting routine.

3. Season 3: The Sravaka

The Sravaka is a bit higher up the ladder than the Deva but we still have a ways to go. This is the golden age of Supernatural wherein each season is better than the last. “The Mystery Spot” is a bizarre episode. Instead of the hunting monsters, Dean is dying over and over again, in mundane and sometimes hilarious ways. Fortunately, every time he dies Sam wakes up the next morning to a certain Asia song playing on the radio. Think a macabre remix of Groundhog’s Day and you’re basically there. Eventually the responsible party turns out to be the Trickster (again), trying to show Sam he can’t save Dean. When Sam refuses to accept it and they escape the trap you think you’ve seen them triumphant but the next clip puts a bit of a damper on things.

In this season things get a bit more intense as Dean has sold his soul and only has a year to live. Long time watchers of the show will be a little tired of this trope by now but at the time it was fresh. Things really get intense at the end when our heroes make a desperate assault on the big bad herself, Lilith, and lose! Dean gets beat down and his soul is eaten. The season ended with him literally damned and in hell. It’s one of the crazier things I’ve seen on TV and the repercussions would last for quite a while, though eventually it was basically forgotten.

4. Season 4: Praetyka-Buddha

We’re getting pretty high up the ladder now, but still not quite the top. A Praetyka-Buddha is the last rung before enlightened beings I’ve actually heard of. It also seems appropriate because this is the season that introduces angels and one angel in particular, the much beloved Castiel. He’s the one in the clip above casually strolling through all of the mojo and defensive traps the crew could muster. Castiel becomes the “third brother” of the show and is the only mainstay to survive basically all the way through. He also becomes an evil god sometime later. Supernatural‘s wacky like that.

Here, the brothers go off to stop the apocalypse! They mount up and go attack the first demon and, well, lose again. This actually tops the season finale with Dean in Hell as the apocalypse isn’t avoided and the end of the season is Lucifer rising again to bring Hell to the whole world instead of one hunter. You also find out Sam’s demon girlfriend really is a double agent, just when you were actually starting to feel sorry for her as a bad-girl-turned-good, and she has been setting up Sam for, oh, forty episodes or so. It’s a great twist.

5. Season 5: Bodhisattva

I’d actually heard of a Bodhisattva before researching this article: a spiritual guide and enlightened being that helps others. It’s also the second-to-top rung of the reincarnation ladder even though we’re only halfway through the article, which might be a hint to where the show quality goes in later seasons. Season 5, which is all about trying to constrain the fallout from the apocalypse, is an appropriate one for Bodhisattva as well. The brothers have an almost completely unselfish motivation and a genuinely heroic goal. There’s still room for weird, though, as here we see the second most harrowing experience for Dean after being trapped in Hell, going to a Supernatural convention. Yes, Supernatural is popular in the Supernatural universe too; it just happens to be a series of trashy paperbacks instead of a TV series. The results are hilarious.

Equally hilarious is the sudden tension-breaker in the above clip. Dean confronts the Archangel Michael and fallen Archangel Lucifer, each wearing the body of one of his brothers (the one you barely remember is their half brother Adam, and the other Sam obviously). He demands to talk to Sam, makes both of the Archangels testy and then, “Hey ass-butt!” Castiel distracts Michael at a critical moment with a holy water molotov and his best attempts at trash talk. He might not get it exactly right, being Castiel, but it’s still a great moment.

6. Season 6: Animal

From what I understand, an animal is not necessarily a step down from a human in terms of enlightenment, but they are removed from the usual good and evil scale, plus primitive in thinking, which sounds like a step down. At the end of season 5, the original showrunner left and another took his place. Season 6 shows the strain as it’s a bit random and sometimes just plain bad. For instance, the collection above shows Sam with no soul. Originally a hilarious idea, it just went on and on until people were sick of it and it was abruptly reversed. Unfortunately, this would be a blueprint for similar sticky issues in later seasons.

This season also features what is perhaps the ultimate meta episode. Sam and Dean are accidentally teleported to a world near to ours where they are actors instead of heroes. Except they really don’t know how to be actors and spend a lot of time being confused. It’s all fun and games until a psychotic angel follows them across the void, murdering most of the cast and crew. It’s all strange and dark, seeming like it has some kind of message but I have no idea what that message was supposed to be. It’s not a bad 45 minutes of entertainment by any means but it does seem to reflect how lost the writers were at this point.

7. Season 7: Hell

Now, there actually is a Hell on the path of reincarnation; it just tends not to be permanent unless you’re really, really evil (and maybe not even then). Season 7 is Hell. Although semi-ambitious with an attempt to launch a new category of villain (Leviathans, a weird mixture of Cthulhu and Mitt Romney), overall things are just muddy and weird. For instance, the above. Bobby is one of the few non-brother characters to last any time in the series, a father figure to Sam and Dean and a great character in his own right. Desperate to get any traction, the authors kill Bobby and burn down his house, which has been home base for the show for a few seasons now. Why? I guess to get everyone angry about the new bad guys or just to throw something at the wall.

Then you have this sequence, which on one hand is great and super funny. On the other hand, it symbolizes weird and obtuse writing. The person tormenting Sam is Lucifer, the same being that possessed him before. Except it’s not Lucifer. Instead, it’s a really weird metaphor or symbol of Sam’s PTSD from being tormented by Lucifer. It eventually tricks Sam into a conversation, making him go nuts until Castiel heals him by somehow absorbing the crazy. This makes Castiel crazy even though he was never possessed by Lucifer and he also acts completely differently, obsessing about flowers and bees instead of the devil. Either way Castiel retires to an asylum with a demoness nurse and then he gets better somehow offscreen. I guess the power of napping.

8. Season 8: The Ghost

The Ghost is doomed to be both haunted by wants and needs but never be able to fulfill them due to their mostly spiritual existence. This befits season 8, wherein another new showrunner takes over and decides that misery is the main ingredient for Supernatural. First, Amelia, as above. We spend an entire season learning that Sam had a brief but tempestuous love affair with a really grouchy veterinarian who he seems to have almost no chemistry with. Sam pines for her and wishes that he could just be a motel maintenance guy and hang out with Amelia forever, but the hunt gets in the way. That’s sad, I guess.

Dean, on the other hand, is really tired of Sam after a between seasons solo adventure and spends most of the time pining for a Cajun vampire he happened to be blood brothers with. Supernatural‘s latent homoerotic tendencies are often commented on, but rarely are they so strong as the clip above. Dean may call Benny “brother” but it certainly seems like he might think of him as more than a friend/sibling substitute. As in, I think they’re kind of in love. Did you hear Dean’s voice crack?

9. Season 9: The Asura

The Asura is a bit like a demon, otherworldly but full of violence and competition. This symbolizes season 9, the most recent season, wherein Supernatural was constantly fighting to stay relevant, practically drowning the viewer in plots. One of the main ones involved Dean meeting Cain and getting hold of the First Blade, a very powerful and nasty weapon that does quite a number on its wielder. In the above, we see Dean really starting to get into murder for recreation. Dean’s always been violent, but you can definitely see him on the way down in this clip. His shout of “Look at me!” at the vampire he was beheading was actually a high point of the season for me.

For a change of pace that still tells a similar story, here we see Dean learning to talk to animals with the help of a potion but going completely nuts with it. Dean becomes best friends with a dog, gets into a semi-violent confrontation with a pigeon, and generally loses himself in his animal side. It’s funny, but also a sign of things to come as eventually the side of Dean that reigns supreme is a very not-nice side indeed. As long as you have personally have a soul, though, you should enjoy the above clip of Dean hanging his head out of a car window. Warms the heart, it does.

10. Season 10: The Buddha?

The Buddha is the top of the reincarnation ladder and we’ve got season 10 coming up, which might be the last one. Will season 10 transcend all that has come before and amaze? In the clip above, which is actually the very ending of season 9, they have a gutsy beginning with Dean as a full-fledged demon. However, we have seen some pretty amazing-sounding plots shut down in the first episode: both Winchesters escaped hell and death between (different) seasons and we once expected season 8 to be set in an alternate dimension. It’s hard to say how seriously we should be taking the Dean-demon (or Deanmon, if you want to jump on that band wagon), although the creators keep making a big deal about it.

From the above clip, it seems like a really big deal indeed. I do notice, though, that the above could just be a single or maybe double episode out of a 23 episode season. There’s no particular reason to believe the entire season is about demon Dean angst, though I would love a season to end with Sam and Dean literally at each other’s throats. The powers that be of Supernatural are crazy enough that almost anything could happen, maybe even Dean killing Sam? Then again it’s not like Sam hasn’t come back from the dead a few times before. Only time will tell. I’ll be both looking forward to and dreading the final outcome as season 10 gets rolling.

Previously by David N. Scott

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